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UK airport expansions

Airport expansion can have local and global impacts. To achieve net zero emissions in the UK by 2050, the Government’s climate advisors, the Climate Change Committee, allow for no more than 25% growth in aviation passenger numbers on 2018 levels. Yet, current planned and recently approved airport expansions will support a 50-70% increase in demand.

This page provides a summary of those expansion plans that have been submitted as formal applications (although many other airports have said they also have ambitions to expand in the future). We endeavour to update this page as and when we become aware of new airport planning applications or changes to existing applications. If you are concerned about expansion at your local airport and would like information about existing campaign groups in your area, please get in touch with us at info@aef.org.uk.

Last updated: 28th May 2024

Airport plans that have been approved, refused or withdrawn since the UK legislated for net zero by 2050:

Bristol (approved)

February 2020: Bristol Airport’s application to expand is rejected by councillors on the grounds that the proposed 20% increase in capacity (from 10 to 12 million passengers per annum) would be harmful to the environment, including the climate. The decision goes against planning officers’ recommendations, so has to be ratified by the committee.

March 2020: North Somerset Council’s Planning and Regulatory Committee ratify the decision to refuse permission for Bristol Airport’s expansion plans. 

August 2020: The airport announces it will appeal the decision. 

20th July 2021: The public inquiry into the airport’s appeal begins. The evidence submitted to the inquiry, including by the Parish Council Airport Association and Bristol Airport Action Network, can be viewed here.  

8th October 2021: Public inquiry closes. 

2nd February 2022: the Inspectors announce their decision to grant permission for the expansion to proceed.

March 2022: campaigners announce they will challenge the decision in the High Court.

May 2022: The High Court grants permission for a two-day hearing to consider issues relating to aviation emissions and biodiversity.

Nov 2022: The High Court hearing took place on the 8th and 9th November 2022 at Bristol’s Civic Justice Centre in Redcliffe.

31st Jan 2023: Court dismisses the legal challenge. BAAN take case to court of appeal.

18th May 2023: Court of Appeal dismisses appeal.


Leeds Bradford (withdrawn)

May 2020: Leeds Bradford Airport submits a full application for a new terminal with the aim of almost doubling its passenger numbers by 2030 (from four million passengers per annum to seven million).  

11th February 2021: Leeds City Council approves the airport’s plans in principle, subject to additional conditions still to be negotiated. 

18th February 2021: Campaign group GALBA writes to the Secretary of State to request the application to be called-in, and determined at a national level. 

April 2021: Government asks Leeds City Council to put the airport’s expansion plans on hold to give Communities Secretary, time to consider whether or not the planning application will be called-in.

January 2022: The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government calls-in the application to consider the extent to which the proposed development is consistent with the development plan for the area and Government policies on climate change and protecting the Green Belt.

10th March 2022: Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) announces it is withdrawing its application to expand.

What’s next?

LBA has since claimed it can still expand under the previous planning permission. GALBA is working with its lawyers to ensure that does not happen.


Luton (approved)

Part 1

11th January 2021: London Luton Airport submits a planning application to increase its capacity from 18 to 19 million passengers per year.  

2nd July 2021: Comments close on the airport’s planning application to increase capacity to 19 million passengers per year.

2nd December 2021: Luton Borough Council approves the application subject to conditions. AEF joined local campaigners in calling on the Secretary of State to call in the application. AEF’s letter can be viewed here.

22nd December 2021: The Secretary of State directs Luton Borough Council not to grant permission until he has considered whether the application should be referred to him for determination.

6th April 2022: Secretary of State calls in the decision and announces a public inquiry.

27th September 2022 – October 2022: public inquiry considers proposal. Evidence and papers can be viewed here.

13th October 2023 – Following a recommendation of approval by the Planning Inspectors’, permission was granted by the Secretaries of State.


Manston (approved)

July 2020: Government grants permission for Manston Airport to open as a freight hub. Approval of the Development Consent Order (the first for a UK airport) goes against the advice of the Examining Authority, which concludes that “the airport will damage the local economy and impact negatively on the UK’s carbon budget and our commitments to the Paris Agreement”. For AEF’s analysis of the Government’s decision, please click here.

November 2020: Chair of Ramsgate Coastal Community Team, Jenny Dawes, successfully applies for a judicial review of the decision, which is scheduled to be heard by the High Court on 16th and 17th February 2021. 

2nd December 2020: Government announces it accepts it has not provided reasons for overturning the Examining Authority’s recommendations and will not be contesting the case. 

February 2021: the High Court issues an order quashing the Government’s decision to approve the freight hub. This is the first time a DCO has been successfully challenged. 

June 2021: the Government announces it will be re-determining the application. Interested parties are invited to make further submissions by 9th July 2021. 

October 2021: the independent assessor appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport to examine the business case for Manston concludes that there is no need for the development. Interested parties were invited to submit comments on the assessors report by 19th November. Jenny Dawes is fundraising for a further £25,000 to continue the case against the reopening of Manston Airport.

August 2022: the Secretary of States issues a decision letter approving the Development Consent Order.

January 2023: Court refuses permission for campaigners to bring a legal challenge.

23 January 2023: campaigners lodge an application for renewal of the claim for permission to apply for judicial review of the Manston Airport DCO.

23 March 2023: the application for renewal will be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday 23 March. The High Court allows the judicial review.

5-6 July 2023: The judicial review hearing take place.

22 Sept 2023: Judge Justice Dove dismisses the application for judicial review.

Sept-Oct 2023: Campaigner Jenny Dawes, who brought the application for judicial review, has announced she will appeal the decision.

February 2024: the Court gives permission to appeal the High Court decision on grounds of ‘need’ but refuses the ‘climate change’ grounds.

24 April 2024: In the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Jackson, Lord Justice Lewis and Lord Justice Warby considered whether to allow the appeal against the decision of Mr Justice Dove in the High Court and therefore to quash the decision of the Secretary of State for Transport to make a Development Consent Order for the reopening and redevelopment of the former Manston airport.

21 May 2024: The Court dismisses the appeal.


Southampton (approved)

October 2019: Southampton Airport submits a planning application to Eastleigh Borough Council to extend its runway by 164 metres.  

2019: First public consultation takes place. Respondents raise concerns over the environmental and noise impacts of extending the runway, prompting the need for a second consultation. 

September 2020: Second public consultation concludes.

November 2020: The period for public comment on the planning application closes.

26th March 2021: Eastleigh Local Area Committee rejects the planning application after a meeting that lasts almost 17 hours.

8th  – 9th April 2021: The plans to extend the airport’s runway are subsequently approved at a full council meeting, reversing the Area Committee’s decision. 

16th April 2021: Eastleigh Borough Council voluntarily agrees to delay issuing a decision notice until the Secretary of State has ‘assessed the case and decided whether or not to call in the application for a public enquiry’. 

June 2021: Eastleigh Borough Council issues planning permission for the runway extension after it is reported that the Government has missed the council’s deadline to intervene. 

August 2021: After successfully raising funds to judicially review the decision to extend the runway, campaigners are granted permission for the case to be heard at the High Court in August 2021. 

October 2021: The High Court refuses the review of the runway extension plans. 

December 2021: The High Court’s original decision is overturned and campaigners are granted a judicial review.

April 2022: The High Court judicial review hearing took place on the 27th and 28th April 2022.

May 2022: The grounds for a legal challenge are dismissed by the judge but campaigners seek permission to appeal.

August 2022: the court refuses permission to appeal.


Stansted (approved)

January 2020: Uttlesford District Council rejects the airport’s application to increase capacity to 43 million passengers a year, citing environmental reasons. 

July 2020: The airport announces that it will appeal the council’s decision.

12th January – 12th March 2021: Public inquiry into the airport’s appeal takes place. Inquiry documentation can be read here.

May 2021: Following the inquiry, in May 2021, the Planning Inspectorate approves the airport’s expansion plans. 

June 2021: Uttlesford District Council announces it will ask ‘the permission of the High Court to challenge the validity of the inspectors’ decision’.

October 2021: the High Court dismisses the council’s request to challenge the result of the Public Inquiry earlier this year. Uttlesford District Council says it will not seek to challenge the High Court’s refusal of permission for judicial review. 


Airports with live applications to expand:

Farnborough

September 2023: Farnborough Airport – a facility that caters mainly for private jets – has been consulting on proposals for operational changes including an increase in the airport’s annual flight limit numbers. 

The operator, Farnborough Airport Ltd., wants to increase the cap on total permitted flights from 50,000 to 70,000 flights per year. The airport is also seeking to increase the non-weekday flight limit from 8,900 to 18,900 flights per year.

November 2023: after considering the consultation feedback, the airport has submitted a formal planning application to Rushmoor Borough Council.

What’s next?

Summer 2024: The planning application was originally timetabled to be determined at the planning committee meeting in March 2024, but due to the need for additional information the application will now go to a planning committee after the May elections. Details of the application can be found here.


Gatwick

July 2019: Gatwick Airport publishes its master plan setting out its intention to progress detailed design and development work to bring the existing standby runway into regular use alongside the main runway, while continuing to safeguard land for an additional runway to the south. Growth projections underpinning the master plan suggest that use of the standby runway could see passenger numbers grow to 70 million passengers per annum (mppa) by 2032/33, potentially reaching 95 million passengers per annum if a new runway is pursued. Read AEF’s analysis of the carbon impacts associated with Gatwick expansion here.

August 2021: the airport announces that it will proceed with plans to bring its existing standby runway into routine use. The airport launches a 12-week public consultation which closed on 1st December 2021.

May 2022: Gatwick Airport launches a consultation on its ‘Northern Runway’ plans focused on highway improvement changes and a project update. The consultation closed on 27th July 2022.

6 July 2023: The airport submits its DCO application.

July 2023: the Examining Authority accepts the application.

October 2023: Parties had until the 19th November to register their interest.

February 2024: The preliminary hearing and ‘open sessions’ began on the 27th and 28th February 2024 respectively, with issue specific hearings taking place between 29th February and the end of April.

What’s next?

The Examine Authority’s timetable for examination, and all documentation relating to the DCO application, can be found here.


London City (refused by local authority)

August 2020: The airport announces its earlier plans to increase the size of its terminal to handle 6.5 million passengers a year by 2023 will not be pursued at this time.

July 2022: London City launches a ten-week public consultation on plans to increase its annual passenger limit from 6.5 million to 9 million, and to vary conditions to allow aircraft to fly on a Saturday afternoon and evening (currently no flights are permitted between 12.30pm Saturday and 12.30pm Sunday), as well as adding six flights to morning operations between 6.30am and 7.00am. No change is sought to the annual movement cap of 111,000.

Dec 2022: Planning application submitted to vary existing conditions to increase the capacity of the airport from 6.5mppa to 9mppa, and to increase the operational hours on a Saturday from 12.30pm to 6.30pm (7.30pm in the summer).

March 2023: Newham Council invites public comment on the application (closed Friday 17th March 2023).

July 2023: Newham Council’s Strategic Development Committee vote to unanimously refuse the application.

July 2023: The airport announces that it intends to appeal Newham’s decision to refuse permission.

Sept 2023: campaign group HACAN East launches a CrowdFunder to help with the legal costs at the Public Inquiry.

Dec 2023: A public Inquiry took place between December 2023 and January 2024.

What’s next?

Spring/summer 2024: following the close of the inquiry, the Inspectors have up to three months to prepare their report and recommendation to Government. This is expected in late Spring.


Luton

Part 2

February 2022: With the call in decision still pending on its application to go to 19 million passengers, London Luton Airport launched a statutory consultation on its proposals to increase the airport’s capacity from 18 million passengers per year to 32 million. The consultation closed on 4th April 2022. 

February 2023: Luton Rising, the Luton Council company that owns Luton Airport submits its application for expansion from 18 million to 32 million passengers per year to the Planning Inspectorate. There will be a 28-day period for the Planning Inspectorate to decide whether the application meets the standards required to be accepted for examination, or if further documentation is needed.

March 2023: Planning Inspectorate agrees to examine the airport’s application. The DCO can be viewed here.

April 2023: Public comment period to be extended beyond May’s local elections.

August 2023: The Examination of the DCO application began on 10th August 2023. The documents and timetable for the examination of the DCO by the Examining Authority can be found here.

February 2024: The Examination closed on 10th February 2024.

10th May 2024: The Examining Authority submitted its report to the Secretary of State.

What’s next?

4th October 2024: the Secretary of State has three months to make a decision following receipt of the Examining Authority’s report, making the deadline 10th August 2024. However, in a statement to Parliament, the Secretary of State announced that the deadline has been extended to 4th October 2024 due to the general election.


Airports expected to apply for permission to expand in the near future:

Heathrow 

February 2020: Court of Appeal rules government policy in support of Heathrow’s expansion unlawful because of a failure to take into account the Paris Agreement on climate change. 

May 2020: Heathrow is granted permission to challenge this ruling in the Supreme Court. Government indicates it will not be appealing the judgment.  

7th – 8th October 2020: the Supreme Court hears Heathrow’s case. For case details and to watch a recording of the proceedings, click here. Friends of the Earth and Plan B defended the Court of Appeal’s February decision. To read FoE’s arguments click here

16th December 2020: Supreme Court delivers its verdict, ruling in favour of the airport, and overturning the Appeal Court’s decision on the basis that the government policy had, in the judges’ opinion, taken the Paris Agreement into account. The ruling reinstates the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS).

October 2021: The Government says it will review the ANPS after it has published its Net Zero Aviation strategy in 2022. 

What’s next?

2024: If Heathrow decides to proceed with its plans for a new runway, the next stage will require the submission of an application for a Development Consent Order. Former Heathrow Chief Exec, John Holland-Kaye, said details of the airport’s renewed expansion plans would be unveiled later in 2023 but no plans have been announced to date.